I feel really guilty about giving The Windup Girl only 3 stars. In a perfect world I'd give her 3.5 glasses of ice water and a kink spring, but this iI feel really guilty about giving The Windup Girl only 3 stars. In a perfect world I'd give her 3.5 glasses of ice water and a kink spring, but this is just integer-loving GR.
There are aspects to The Windup Girl that I really, really liked. It's extremely literary with evocative, fresh writing. The world building is complex and Bacigalupi doesn't feel the need to answer every single question or detail. It feels like a cross between biopunk, steampunk and near-future dystopias. Finally, much of the story is evocative of other great dystopia stories and their protagonists. Like the world of Oryx & Crake, this near-future world has experienced a genetically manufactured apocalypse. Mega generipping agricultural corporations (headquartered in Des Moines) have at once caused both widespread disease and famine with their GM foods and the world's utter dependence on the same foods. In The Windup Girl's world, genehackers and generippers have created ultra-chameleon cheshire cats that have displaced normal housecats and can disappear into the background. They have also created the New People, living dolls generipped to be beautiful, subservient or even killing machines. Windup people move in a stutter-stop motion, also known as "heechy-keetchy" amongst regular folks.
Unfortunately our Windup Girl, Emiko, has been abandoned by her former Japanese master in the isolated city of Bangkok. In Thailand Windup People are despised as abhorrent soulless creations that only waste calories. If they are found, they are immediately destroyed by the Environmental ministry, the "white shirts," unless appropriate bribes have been paid. One step above windup people are the "yellow cards" - ethnic Chinese immigrants who see refuge in Thailand from religious fanatics and and unexplained devastation in their homelands.
Thailand has become a kingdom that has isolated itself from the world, keeping its own vast valuable seed bank. Like the rest of the world, oil has been depleted and there are battles over the scarce coal reserves. Power is provided mostly manually - crank-turned radios, megodonts (elephant-like GM beasts) are connected to spindles, rickshaws are the main mode of transport, and long distance travel is possible via dirigibles. I absolutely loved that energy is stored via flywheels and kink-springs. The whole setup is gritty and very steampunkish. Sadly, Bacigalupi doesn't explain why hydro-electric or wind power aren't in the picture.
Back to Emiko the eponymous Windup Girl. Her plight reminds me a lot of Sonmi from "Cloud Atlas" or even the world of "Never Let Me Go." People who are created and trained to be subservient, yet look for and sometimes find ways to break free from their predestination. Emiko's story is by far the most compelling in The Windup Girl, yet it's sadly only a small portion. There are many story lines, and The Windup Girl gets the short shrift.
We have all the makings of a really fascinating dystopic world, fun and crazy biopunk technology and steampunk aspects. Really, I should *love* this book.
Sadly the plot is frequently nonexistent. When there is action, the story moves along at a fast clip and is excellent. In between those moments, however, I found it hard to read more than 15 pages without my mind wandering far, far away. I know that this is Bacigalupi's first novel - he is more well known for his short stories. This novel really feels like several short stories mashed together with a whole lot of plodding filler spackled between them.
Finally, yes the book is very "literary" - well written with a complex vocabulary and sentence structure. But frequently this literary-ness feels extremely forced, particularly at the end. The metaphors and adjectives were sometimes lovely and evocative, yet not infrequently they were grating and took away from the story and characters.
I just wish there was more forward movement of the plot and a little less swirly-whirly with the descriptions and emotions....more
Wow I just flew through The Unit, and now my heart just aches for Dorrit, the Dispensables and for the society.
It's the near-future in Sweden, a socieWow I just flew through The Unit, and now my heart just aches for Dorrit, the Dispensables and for the society.
It's the near-future in Sweden, a society that values capital and societal value above individual life. If you are childless, not in a protected job, have no dependents and no loving relationship, you are considered to be "dispensable." Dispensables are taken to The Unit at age 50 for women or 60 for men-i.e. after they are no longer reproductively viable, with the intent to give back to society through their own body. They donate body parts, participate in drug trials and scientific experiments, all while living in a little enclosed Club Med-like "utopic" dollhouse.
It's a very disturbing situation that Dorrit, our narrator, seems to implicitly accept, even while grieving the loss of her independence, privacy and solitude. She was a novelist who loved living alone, in a remote little cottage with her spotted dog, Jock. Cracks start to form in Dorrit's acceptance and beliefs in society. The new close relationships she develops in The Unit - unlike any relationships she's had before - create an unusual situation for her. She eventually has to decide between those relationships, her place in society and the common good.
I think what's remarkable is Holmqvist's simple, stark, straight-forward writing can still pull you into an unusual world and the complex mental state of a Dispensable. This book will hit you between the eyes if you have made life choices that are out of the mean for our society.
In the end, I'm not sure if Holmqvist is making a statement about capitalism or socialism. The dystopia is not created by some sort of totalitarian regime (as in The Handmaid's Tale or 1984) or as a response to a world-wide catastrophe (as in A Canticle for Leibowitz). Instead, it appears that the democratic society has decided that people who add no value or capital to the society should donate their organs to the more deserving, and remove themselves from life. Somehow everyone is convinced they are choosing this option, yet no one appears to have a choice or claim on their own life. This seems more insidious: to grow up believing that some people have more rights to their life than others just based on who they are.
I was wavering between four and five stars for this one. Ultimately, I can't deny the power of a book that makes me hold my breath and cry and grieve for the characters. ...more
Part of my March 2010 Hugo Award winner bonanza. ________________
Wow that was really a fun mash-up of historical fiction, time travel and humor! All loPart of my March 2010 Hugo Award winner bonanza. ________________
Wow that was really a fun mash-up of historical fiction, time travel and humor! All lovers of time travel and its implications should give this a go. Certainly if you enjoy the zany humor of Douglas Adams, you should give this a go. I might even suggest that if you're a fan of Victorian England and its foibles, you should give this a go. And most certainly, definitely if you know what a penwiper is, you have no choice but to read this book. ________________
June 26, 2010:
I saw two interesting reviews about TSNOTD.
The first is the ever insightful Jo Walton at Tor.com: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/06/acad... "To Say Nothing of the Dog takes place in Willis’ “Firewatch” universe, along with her earlier Doomsday Book and more recent Blackout (and much anticipated All Clear). In this universe, there’s time travel but it’s for academic research purposes only. It’s useful to historians who want to know what really happened, and experience the past, but otherwise useless because time protects itself and you can’t bring anything through the “net” that will have any effect. The thought of time tourists hasn’t occurred in this universe, or rather it has been firmly squelched—and just as well, considering the problems historians manage to create all on their own. Despite having time travel and time travel’s ability to give you more time, Willis’s historians seem to be like my family and live in a perpetual whirlwind of ongoing crisis where there’s never enough time for proper preparation."
The second is Suvudu's 25 Years of (Bantam) Spectra series, which has a short intro from Willis herself: http://www.suvudu.com/2010/06/25-year... "I’d also always wanted to write a Victorian novel. You know the sort, crammed with eccentric characters and an incredibly convoluted plot full of butlers and afternoon tea and ruffles and séances and Oxford dons and falling in the Thames. To say nothing of the dog. And time travel. " ...more
In a near-future world, where genetic engineering of embryos is as possible as choosing the color and features of your new Prius, scientists create peIn a near-future world, where genetic engineering of embryos is as possible as choosing the color and features of your new Prius, scientists create people who lack the need (or ability) to sleep - for the right price. The knock-on effect is that these Sleepless are smarter, more emotionally stable, and more rational than us Sleepers.
Around the same time, a brilliant scientist creates a new power source, eliminating the need for fossil fuels or distributed power grids - a cold fusion fuel cell for every home and vehicle! America enters a long era of economic prosperity. However, the Sleepers and Sleepless have problems coexisting peacefully, both socially, economically, and philosophically.
Although it has genetic manipulation and technological advancement at its heart, Beggars in Spain is not just a fun cyber- or bio-punk story. It's more a study of social and philosophical consequences of creating a small group of superior humans. When the Sleepless are shunned and hated even as children, their reactions will set up a chain of events that spans generations.
The story is at its most interesting when Leisha, an original Sleepless child, interacts her twin sister Alice, a Sleeper. Theirs is a complicated sisterhood, full of misunderstanding, regret, jealousy, love, and more. The novel generally lacks a lot of characterization, however Leisha, Alice, and at the end, Miri, are the most fleshed out, dynamic characters and make the story sing.
As enjoyable as I found the epic story, I would warn that if pushing a philosophical agenda turns you off, you might well hate this book. Yagaiism, Kress's version of Rand's Objectivism could be considered to have the starring role, and she pushes the philosophy endlessly. Despite this, there are so many fun concepts and situations to think about long after you put the book down. Seriously, how much fun is that?!...more
I love stories where the world is effectively our own, but then one weird, amazing thing happens that turns the world upside down. Contact has this inI love stories where the world is effectively our own, but then one weird, amazing thing happens that turns the world upside down. Contact has this in spades, exploring the political, religious, scientific and personal reactions to an alien signal from outer space. The story doesn't unfold simply or with too many contrivances. And you can be amused at Sagan's inability to predict some technological advances.
I had a tough time rating Contact. On one hand the science, concept and consequences of actions are amazing! On the other hand, the writing can be tedious with too much exposition and background on many characters. Even with the background, the characters mostly feel flat, which is a bummer. It's really the kind of book I'd imagine a high-level science professor to write. And it is!
Read the story to be transported to a world of "what-ifs" and possibilities and wonders of the Universe. Read the story if you really enjoy physics and astronomy....more
Here's what my husband had to say about the book after he picked it up from the university library: "Part of my March 2010 Hugo Award winner bonanza.
Here's what my husband had to say about the book after he picked it up from the university library: "It appears to be about monkey-men. Therefore, it appears to be awesome." ______________
There's something to be said for a book that draws you in every time you pick it up. Each time it only took a page before I was fully in the "flow" - ignoring everything around me, forgetting my own life. And there are evolved Neanderthals and parallel universes! Neanderthal technology and Neanderthal cosmology! It's so silly and so much fun.
Even though Hominids is the first book in a trilogy, it is very self-contained, so don't worry that you will be left with tons of loose ends and teasers for the second book. ...more
Part of my "Finish the series already!" month. _______________________
I really, really loved this book! I don't use love very often with books - partlyPart of my "Finish the series already!" month. _______________________
I really, really loved this book! I don't use love very often with books - partly because I can't choose a select few to elevate above the others. Mostly I don't say I love a book in a review because who am I to say that you will love it too? But this book? Loved it.
Like Beggars in Spain, Nancy Kress focuses on societal development as seen through the eyes of different caste individuals in the United States. I don't want to give away any more details than that, except to say that the time period, time span, and layout of the story are quite different than Beggars in Spain. I half expected something quite different, mostly because Beggars in Spain started as a novella (first third of the book), then expanded to a novel, then expanded to a trilogy. What I didn't expect here is a totally different social commentary, and done so damn well. Right now in the hours after finishing it, I think I enjoyed this more than Beggars in Spain.
This is always the tricky thing with second-in-a-series: when the author chooses to do something so different than the beloved first book, she risks alienating folks that wanted more of the same. Despite the differences in Beggars and Choosers, the reader does get more Sleepless, more social commentary, more mind-blowing ideas of how small changes can effect the core structure and belief system of the country.
At any rate, if you've read and enjoyed Beggars in Spain, make the effort to find a copy of Beggars and Choosers. I don't think you'll be disappointed....more
What a fun read! A gripping science fiction romp that will leave you dazed, thinking about the size of the Universe, the effects of world-wide crises,What a fun read! A gripping science fiction romp that will leave you dazed, thinking about the size of the Universe, the effects of world-wide crises, and our small place in both of these.
The difficulty is being able to tell you much about the book. Every chapter contains either a huge game-changing twist, an important turn in the characters' story, or both. The twists start happening so early on, that I can't even breathe a word of them, lest I ruin the fun of the surprise.
The best I can do is give you the setup. In a very near future, the Earth is suddenly surrounded by a temporal shield, the Spin, that blocks out light from the stars and moon, replicates the sun and tides, but otherwise leaves the Earth intact. Outside the Spin, the Universe is aging at a rate of 100,000 years to one year back on the Earth. The consequences of this disturbance are complex, both scientifically and sociologically. We follow the story of three characters as their personal stories intersect with those of the Spin and its aftermath for decades after the event.
There is so much cosmology, astronomy, exobiology, sociology, and evolution to keep you thinking and guessing at each turn.
Seriously, I haven't had this much fun being absorbed in a science fiction story since I read Darwin's Radio.
I just wanted to add that Spin is the first in a planned trilogy, the second volume, Axis is already out. The ending sets up the second book, so it might come across as unfulfilling. ...more
***STOP*** Axis is the sequel to Spin, the second book in a trilogy. If you haven't read Spin, and want to read it unspoiled in the future, don't even***STOP*** Axis is the sequel to Spin, the second book in a trilogy. If you haven't read Spin, and want to read it unspoiled in the future, don't even think about reading my review or any reviews about Axis. Don't ruin your experience of Spin -- it's so, so good on its own.
Otherwise, if you've already read Spin or Axis, or have no intention of reading them, feel free to continue...
The vast differences between Spin and Axis make the sequel hard to digest and hard to rate. It has a different structure, different levels of characterization, a different narrative timescale, and so on. The biggest difference is the action in Axis takes place off-world, in the New World, Equatoria, the distant planet past the Arch. Perhaps Wilson was trying to make an entirely off-Earth book feel different? If so, he succeeded, but to the story's detriment.
Like Spin, the story in Axis is propelled by a single apocalyptic event. However, the vast dust storms blanketing Equatoria just aren't as compelling as the temporal membrane blocking out the stars in Spin. It just isn't a game-changing event for all of humanity. In addition, without a main character like Jason Lawton, we have little scientific discussion or evidence through most of the story.
In effect, Axis reads like much less of a Hard SF book than Spin. Whereas Spin opens up new scientific and sociological questions for the reader, the main question in Axis is just an extension of those posed in Spin. What is the nature of the Hypotheticals, and are they sentient? To me, the answers to these aren't answered in a satisfying way. The story remains in a philosophical, almost mystical realm. Maybe Wilson will continue the discussion in Vortex (as yet unpublished), with the type of scientific and sociological commentary that was so brilliant in Spin....more
First, I have to say I read most of this book while on jury duty (which mostly involves waiting around, then waiting some more), which seemed way tooFirst, I have to say I read most of this book while on jury duty (which mostly involves waiting around, then waiting some more), which seemed way too appropriate.
This is quite an unusual dystopic story - society's transformation from what we currently know to West's vision of a radically altered near-future happens in the book. How we get from A to B is completely spelled out. Typically dystopias in literature drop the reader in, and let the reader flail around a bit trying to figure out how society became so dramatically altered. Instead, West uses the first-person narration of our chatty felon, Michael, to help the reader understand his confounding situation.
Michael is a long-time crook from a dysfunctional home who finally gets caught burgling a VIP's home. On his way to prison, he's involved in an accident and ends up in a coma for years. When he awakes, the criminal justice system is nothing like he knew it, due to a ruling from the Supreme Court. The court found that prisons were cruel & unusual punishment, and released all prisoners on to the street. (??! okay.) Michael is now thrown into a home-education reformer system, and finds that things aren't as easy as they appear.
The story is pretty entertaining, but I couldn't help thinking that this book should probably be labeled young-adult. We are in Michael's head through the whole story, and he's little more than a petulant child in an adult body. The issues Michael grapples with are ones most teenagers dream about: Could I get away with a life of crime? Surely criminals don't need a stupid education! Families?! Huh, what are they good for?
So, as long as you are okay with everything being spelled out, and are a YA fan, you'll probably really enjoy this book. I was entertained. :)...more
I feel a bit guilty giving Dirk Gently #1 only 3 stars. After all, it's wickedly clever and chock-a-block with crazy, colorful, and differentiated chaI feel a bit guilty giving Dirk Gently #1 only 3 stars. After all, it's wickedly clever and chock-a-block with crazy, colorful, and differentiated characters. But I sadly think I just wasn't in the mood for all the absurdist situations and comedy. It was all just a little too random. I'll have to try a re-read when I'm feeling particularly goofily giddy with 1980s British nostalgia.
Just two quotes that struck me: They are not the funniest nor the most famous, just ones I'd like to remember:
"Shapes that we think of as random are in fact the products of complex shifting webs of numbers obeying simple rules. The very word "natural" that we have often taken to mean "unstructured" in fact describes shapes and processes that appear to unfathomably complex that we cannot consciously perceive the simple natural laws at work. They can all be described by numbers."
"The things by which our emotions can be moved—the shape of a flower or a Grecian urn, the way a baby grows, the way the wind brushes across your face, the way clouds move, their shapes, the way light dances on the water, or daffodils flutter in the breeze, the way in which the person you love moves in their head, the way their hair follows that movement, the curve described by the dying fall of the last chord of a piece of music—all these things can be described by the complex flow of numbers. That's not a reduction of it, that's the beauty of it. Ask Newton. Ask Einstein."
Those two quotes pretty much sum up why I felt so compelled to study physics after years of intending to get an art degree....more
Another book with flying robot monkeys! (I might be pushing it with the flying adjective, but it's close!)
If you ever dream about nanobots, and you juAnother book with flying robot monkeys! (I might be pushing it with the flying adjective, but it's close!)
If you ever dream about nanobots, and you just know they are right around the corner, oh boy do you want to read this book. If you are interested in nitty-gritty Istanbul with a sci-fi bent, yup, this is your book. If you're looking for a more literary sci-fi and a book that plays and relishes in its language, then give this one a shot.
Sadly, life has been getting in the way of reading at my normal pace. Luckily I read the first third quickly and in a couple of long sessions. I'll say up front, this book challenged me.
The story has a large cast of characters, and a somewhat opaque way of telling the story. McDonald has a stylized way of telling the story, and the characters are all Instanbul natives (or close to it). Readers are not introduced to Istanbul through a Westerners eyes. It's a totally immersion. I could see this putting off a lot of people. McDonald is asking his readers to follow the threads and trust his story telling.
And yet, I felt utterly rewarded by the end.
This paragraph sums up Turkey, and mirrors the struggles of the characters in the story:
"In our five thousand years of civilization, our history has often been the handmaid of geography. We lie exactly midway between the North Pole and the Equator. We are the gateway between the Fertile Crescent and Europe, between landlocked Central Asia and the Mediterranean world and beyond that, the Atlantic. Peoples and empires have ebbed and flowed across this land. Even today sixty per cent of Europe’s gas supply either passes down the Bosphorus or runs under our very feet through pipelines. We have always been the navel of the world. Yet our favored location by its very nature surrounded us with historical enemies; to the north, Russia to the south, the Arabs; to the east, Persia and to the west, the Red Apple itself, Europe."
Sorry I don't have many deeper things to say, but life keeps calling me back.
Some day I'm going to get around to reading more about Turkey. This list of the top 10 books about Turkey will be a good resource when I'm read. -----------------------
(This review pertains to the written edition of 7th Son, not the original podcast. I've heard some serious editing and changes were made for publicati(This review pertains to the written edition of 7th Son, not the original podcast. I've heard some serious editing and changes were made for publication.)
I was so excited by the first half-dozen or so chapters of 7th son. There was so much mystery and intrigue; why are these different men being abducted, who's the torturing maniac, what's up with the clones? It's a really excellent sci-fi/thriller set-up.
Unfortunately around the half-way point I got really tired of all the grandiose pronouncements. Yes, those involved with the 7th Son project would believe that it is THE most earth-shattering, paradigm changing, dangerous event ever to happen to mankind. After a while, I felt like it's Hutchins making these proclamations about his own story and book. Get over yourself already.
The story fizzles - it's like another reviewer said, it's amazing that the book is as long as it is when really not that much happens. What does happen is exciting, but could happen faster.
I can only assume that the story was much more exciting in episodic podcast format read by the author. Maybe if you waited a week between installments it would have been a less repetitious, more engaging story?...more